John Calvert, Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 377 pp., $29.50.
THE COVER of John Calvert’s book parades the face that launched a thousand suicide bombers. Sayyid Qutb, the major ideologue of modern, ultraviolent Islamic fundamentalism, is staring through bars, probably during his Cairo trial in April 1966, shortly before his death sentence was pronounced. Bushy eyebrows, a full, dark, graying moustache, large brown eyes, inquisitive, wary, worried. But by some accounts, he was looking forward to his martyrdom: “I have been able to discover God in a wonderful new way. I understand His path and way more clearly and perfectly than before,” he wrote to a Saudi colleague in June. He was hanged by the Nasser regime, along with two fellow Muslim Brotherhood activists, in the early morning hours of August 29.
A recent profile of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, says that he has spent much of his time in the American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay reading Qutb. Apparently, so have many others among the fundamentalists wreaking havoc in Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and Western cities in recent decades. Qutb is the man whose books, written as he was edging toward Islamism in the late 1940s and after his “conversion” during the 1950s, explain why Muslims must wage jihad against both the “Near Enemy”—the Western-aligned and Western-influenced regimes in the Arab world—and the “Far Enemy”—meaning the West itself, especially the United States.